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Players' union requests more frequent COVID-19 testing in response to MLB health proposals

A detail of baseballs during a Grapefruit League

A detail of baseballs during a Grapefruit League spring training game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on March 12, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Credit: Getty Images/Michael Reaves

Baseball restart talks inched forward Thursday when the players’ union submitted a “wide-ranging” response to MLB’s health and safety proposal, including possibly testing players for COVID-19 more frequently than the suggested twice per week, according to a union official.

Health issues are one of two major topics — along with player pay — that MLB and the Players Association still need to agree on before a season can happen.

The union has not received a salary-structure proposal from MLB, but a source indicated one is expected in the next several days. MLB already has supplied the union with financial information that paints a dire economic picture for the sport, though the union has been skeptical of the validity of that information.

For now, progress comes on non-money front.

The Players Association’s round of Thursday feedback also touched on protocols for positive tests, in-stadium medical personnel, protections for high-risk players and families, access to pregame and postgame therapies and sanitization protocols.

Under MLB’s original health and safety outline, players would be tested at least twice per week, along with temperature and symptom checks at least daily.

More testing would mean more peace of mind for everyone involved, but it’s not clear if the league can safely and in good conscience acquire enough tests for, say, daily testing — especially at a time when the public also needs COVID-19 tests.

“The union has spent the past several days carefully reviewing the manual and gathering feedback from its medical experts and players across the league, including a 3 ½-hour video conference with 100-plus player leaders on Monday night,” a union official said Thursday afternoon.

The union’s response came six days after MLB delivered its 67-page operations manual, which covered everything from no spitting and no high-fiving to what happens if a player or someone else tests positive to how teams should conduct themselves on the road.

Negotiating the health and safety measures appears not to be as contentious as the financials.

The players believe that the March 26 agreement with MLB promised them prorated salaries for any partial season. Under the current proposal, they would get about half of their regular salaries for an approximately 80-game schedule.

The owners believe that the March 26 agreement promised prorated salaries only under normal circumstances and cite a line about the “economic feasibility” of playing at neutral sites or in empty ballparks. Because fans won’t be present for at least most of the hypothetical 2020 season, the owners want players to take another pay cut.

Before the sides began formal talks again last week, MLB leaked word that it was going to suggest a 50-50 revenue split with the players. The union leaked that that was a nonstarter for the players.

It is not clear what form the league’s actual economic proposal, expected any day now, will take.

“For me, when you look at the TV contracts and you look at the national and local revenues and all those things, in my opinion, it is really easy to see that with even a partial season, they’re going to collect $3-4 billion in TV contracts,” agent Scott Boras said Wednesday on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.

“It is economically feasible to play games. And if they don’t play games, they would lose all that revenue. It’s evidence that it’s economically feasible, because of the fact that you’re going to do a lot better if you play than if you don’t play.”

The sides hope to start the season in early July, which would mean restarting spring training by mid-June, which would mean needing to come to an agreement by the first week of June at the latest.

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